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Friday, 8 May 2015

On the Indwelling and the Mansions

From Interior Castle:

My comments are in normal type, and St. Teresa's are in italics.

2. I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, [31] formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, [32] and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions. [33] If we reflect, sisters, we shall see that the soul of the just man is but a paradise, in which, God tells us, He takes His delight. [34] What, do you imagine, must that dwelling be in which a King so mighty, so wise, and so pure, containing in Himself all good, can delight to rest? Nothing can be compared to the great beauty and capabilities of a soul; however keen our intellects may be, they are as unable to comprehend them as to comprehend God, for, as He has told us, He created us in His own image and likeness. [35] 

 With these words, the great saint and Doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila, begins her description of the interior castle. God allowed her through grace to see Himself within her. This Indwelling of the Trinity beings with baptism. That we are made in God's image and, as St. Bernard has said, lost the likeness, which is grace, through sin, creates a situation where one must cooperate with grace and work on the interior life. This work must be the priority of each one of us in our daily lives.

3. As this is so, we need not tire ourselves by trying to realize all the beauty of this castle, although, being His creature, there is all the difference between the soul and God that there is between the creature and the Creator; the fact that it is made in God's image teaches us how great are its dignity and loveliness. It is no small misfortune and disgrace that, through our own fault, we neither understand our nature nor our origin. Would it not be gross ignorance, my daughters, if, when a man was questioned about his name, or country, or parents, he could not answer? Stupid as this would be, it is unspeakably more foolish to care to learn nothing of our nature except that we possess bodies, and only to realize vaguely that we have souls, because people say so and it is a doctrine of faith. Rarely do we reflect upon what gifts our souls may possess, Who dwells within them, or how extremely precious they are. Therefore we do little to preserve their beauty; all our care is concentrated on our bodies, which are but the coarse setting of the diamond, or the outer walls of the castle. [36] 

 Note that St. Teresa takes the blame onto herself and each one of us for not realizing the beauty of the soul and the Presence of God Within. To merely state that the doctrine of the Church is that we each have a soul cannot be compared with the personal realization of this truth. Yes, we are too concerned about the exterior, the body and not the soul. But, to understand that God is present to each one of us in sanctifying grace can be seen as the foundation for growth. In this celebratory year of St. Teresa's birth, let us look closely at her words.

4. Let us imagine, as I said, that there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse. [37] Think over this comparison very carefully; God grant it may enlighten you about the different kinds of graces He is pleased to bestow upon the soul. No one can know all about them, much less a person so ignorant as I am. The knowledge that such things are possible will console you greatly should our Lord ever grant you any of these favours; people themselves deprived of them can then at least praise Him for His great goodness in bestowing them on others. The thought of heaven and the happiness of the saints does us no harm, but cheers and urges us to win this joy for ourselves, nor will it injure us to know that during this exile God can communicate Himself to us loathsome worms; it will rather make us love Him for such immense goodness and infinite mercy. 

For those of us who have not experienced the great graces, but desire to do so, God will not ignore us. We all have an unique way to God, and not all of us will experience graces in the same manner, but St. Teresa speaks to the universal experience of the God Within, as do many of the saints, such as Augustine, Bernard, and Elizabeth of the Trinity, just a few among many. 

 5. I feel sure that vexation at thinking that during our life on earth God can bestow these graces on the souls of others shows a want of humility and charity for one's neighbour, for why should we not feel glad at a brother's receiving divine favours which do not deprive us of our own share? Should we not rather rejoice at His Majesty's thus manifesting His greatness wherever He chooses? [38] 

Sometimes our Lord acts thus solely for the sake of showing His power, as He declared when the Apostles questioned whether the blind man whom He cured had been suffering for his own or his parents' sins. [39] God does not bestow these favours on certain souls because they are more holy than others who do not receive them, but to manifest His greatness, as in the case of St. Paul and St. Mary Magdalen, and that we may glorify Him in His creatures. 

We tend to think that those who are holier than we are have been given such gifts. Not so. No one earns or deserves any of the favors from God. St. Teresa is very aware in her writings of her own venial sins and tendencies towards sin, which God freed her from over the course of time. As one who is older than she was when she died, I marvel at how quickly she cooperated with grace to reach such heights of illumination and union with God. But, one cannot compare one's spiritual life at all. This is silly, as we are all different. 

 6. People may say such things appear impossible and it is best not to scandalize the weak in faith by speaking about them. But it is better that the latter should disbelieve us, than that we should desist from enlightening souls which receive these graces, that they may rejoice and may endeavour to love God better for His favours, seeing He is so mighty and so great. There is no danger here of shocking those for whom I write by treating of such matters, for they know and believe that God gives even greater proofs of His love. I am certain that if any one of you doubts the truth of this, God will never allow her to learn it by experience, for He desires that no limits should be set to His work: therefore, never discredit them because you are not thus led yourselves. 

One can and should feel and think one's self unworthy, as we all are. Worthiness cannot be earned. The leading is cooperation, as Garrigou-Lagrange, like St. Francis de Sales writes at length, as I pointed out in the perfection series, that we are all called to this illuminative and unitive state-all. It is only the lack of faith, and the lack of commitment which hold us back. God determines the how and when. But, do not stand in the courtyard wishing for more. Be bold and beg for the graces if none seem forthcoming. St. Teresa herself prayed for these graces, knowing that there was so much more to life than what she was experiencing. She wanted the more. 

 7. Now let us return to our beautiful and charming castle and discover how to enter it. This appears incongruous: if this castle is the soul, clearly no one can have to enter it, for it is the person himself: one might as well tell some one to go into a room he is already in! There are, however, very different ways of being in this castle; many souls live in the courtyard of the building where the sentinels stand, neither caring to enter farther, nor to know who dwells in that most delightful place, what is in it and what rooms it contains.

8. Certain books on prayer that you have read advise the soul to enter into itself, [40] and this is what I mean. I was recently told by a great theologian that souls without prayer are like bodies, palsied and lame, having hands and feet they cannot use. Just so, there are souls so infirm and accustomed to think of nothing but earthly matters, that there seems no cure for them. It appears impossible for them to retire into their own hearts; accustomed as they are to be with the reptiles and other creatures which live outside the castle, they have come at last to imitate their habits. Though these souls are by their nature so richly endowed, capable of communion even with God Himself, yet their case seems hopeless. Unless they endeavour to understand and remedy their most miserable plight, their minds will become, as it were, bereft of movement, just as Lot's wife became a pillar of salt for looking backwards in disobedience to God's command. [41]

 Here, the great saint refers to those others, like Augustine and Bernard, who have written on the same progress of the soul. What Teresa describes startles one-many caught up in the material worldliness of this century miss out on graces because of the lack of prayer. And, I have a confession to make at this point. Because I wasted so much time in my youth and even in middle age seeking things which were not important, I am now suffering a purgatory on earth for this wasted time. Now, I must seek and work much harder for what God wanted to give me earlier in less stressful times. Finally, I understood the great physical suffering of injuries and itinerant times as punishment for passing up opportunities for grace in the past. What changed my focus was facing cancer in 2009. After that time, I became much more serious about the interior life, which I had known all my life but did not take the time to develop early on. This was my lack of focus, not the lack of God's graces. I stood in the courtyard, too busy, too taken up with trivia to move in further. The image of Lot's wife should stir all of us. She perished for looking back to happier days of wealth and comfort, instead of the hard, unknown road ahead presented to her to obey and follow. She did not obey. She did not hear the word of God in her heart, which must have already been like salt, hard and brittle at the same time. It is God's mercy that He gives us plenty of opportunities to find Him within. The nasty creatures described by Teresa are both sins and demons, straining to take one off the road to the mansions within. This ignoring of the beasts must be one of the greatest trials for modern men and women. There seem to be too many distractions. God has taken away most distractions, except for the necessities of life in my case. Food, shelter, clothing have become issues, but God provides, and I am waiting for His next provision, which is still not clear to me. He does not want me to panic or distrust. Again, my punishment for not paying attention in younger days is now to pay attention under duress. This I must do. 

 9. As far as I can understand, the gate by which to enter this castle is prayer and meditation. I do not allude more to mental than to vocal prayer, for if it is prayer at all, the mind must take part in it. If a person neither considers to Whom he is addressing himself, what he asks, nor what he is who ventures to speak to God, although his lips may utter many words, I do not call it prayer. [42]

Sometimes, indeed, one may pray devoutly without making all these considerations through having practised them at other times. The custom of speaking to God Almighty as freely as with a slave--caring nothing whether the words are suitable or not, but simply saying the first thing that comes to mind from being learnt by rote by frequent repetition--cannot be called prayer: God grant that no Christian may address Him in this manner. I trust His Majesty will prevent any of you, sisters, from doing so. Our habit in this Order of conversing about spiritual matters is a good preservative against such evil ways. 

 Prayer can be the Divine Mercy chaplet, novenas, the rosary, third order prayers and so on. The prayers of the Mass can be most powerful. Prayer can be both vocal and mental. Meditation must be a daily occurrence, as I wrote yesterday and before. Meditate on the Gospel of the day. Meditate on these words of Teresa. Meditate on the mysteries of the rosary. Some people have gifts of meditation for one type of lectio divina than others. What I like in this section is the call to respect. Too many times I have cried out to God in disrespect and stress instead of in trust and faith. But, to concentrate may be difficult for some, and the young should learn these types of prayer-skills early so as to be able to continue these in old age, when it is much harder to begin new habits of any sort. 

10. Let us speak no more of these crippled souls, who are in a most miserable and dangerous state, unless our Lord bid them rise, as He did the palsied man who had waited more than thirty years at the pool of Bethsaida. [43] We will now think of the others who at last enter the precincts of the castle; they are still very worldly, yet have some desire to do right, and at times, though rarely, commend themselves to God's care. They think about their souls every now and then; although very busy, they pray a few times a month, with minds generally filled with a thousand other matters, for where their treasure is, there is their heart also. [44] 

Still, occasionally they cast aside these cares; it is a great boon for them to realize to some extent the state of their souls, and to see that they will never reach the gate by the road they are following. This paragraph, sadly, describes the state of most Catholics. They need to set aside cares and trust, as I am learning to do. If I can, you can. 11. At length they enter the first rooms in the basement of the castle, accompanied by numerous reptiles [45] which disturb their peace, and prevent their seeing the beauty of the building; still, it is a great gain that these persons should have found their way in at all

 It does not matter that one sees one's sins and failings. The Dark Night will purge one. The peace to be gained is not to concentrate on the “uglies” but on Christ Himself. 12. You may think, my daughters, that all this does not concern you, because, by God's grace, you are farther advanced; still, you must be patient with me, for I can explain myself on some spiritual matters concerning prayer in no other way. May our Lord enable me to speak to the point; the subject is most difficult to understand without personal experience of such graces. Any one who has received them will know how impossible it is to avoid touching on subjects which, by the mercy of God, will never apply to us. St. Teresa, thankfully, is being very patient with us newbies. Now, I shall repeat in another context what I wrote this past week on mortal sin from Teresa's description. I merely repeat these first paragraphs to emphasize the great need to break away from sin.

1. BEFORE going farther, I wish you to consider the state to which mortal sin [46] brings this magnificent and beautiful castle, this pearl of the East, this tree of life, planted beside the living waters of life [47] which symbolize God Himself. No night can be so dark, no gloom nor blackness can compare to its obscurity. Suffice it to say that the sun in the centre of the soul, which gave it such splendour and beauty, is totally eclipsed, though the spirit is as fitted to enjoy God's presence as is the crystal to reflect the sun. [48] 2. While the soul is in mortal sin nothing can profit it; none of its good works merit an eternal reward, since they do not proceed from God as their first principle, and by Him alone is our virtue real virtue. The soul separated from Him is no longer pleasing in His eyes, because by committing a mortal sin, instead of seeking to please God, it prefers to gratify the devil, the prince of darkness, and so comes to share his blackness. I knew a person to whom our Lord revealed the result of a mortal sin [49] and who said she thought no one who realized its effects could ever commit it, but would suffer unimaginable torments to avoid it. This vision made her very desirous for all to grasp this truth, therefore I beg you, my daughters, to pray fervently to God for sinners, who live in blindness and do deeds of darkness. 

3. In a state of grace the soul is like a well of limpid water, from which flow only streams of clearest crystal. Its works are pleasing both to God and man, rising from the River of Life, beside which it is rooted like a tree. Otherwise it would produce neither leaves nor fruit, for the waters of grace nourish it, keep it from withering from drought, and cause it to bring forth good fruit. But the soul by sinning withdraws from this stream of life, and growing beside a black and fetid pool, can produce nothing but disgusting and unwholesome fruit. We, therefore, please God by staying in sanctifying grace, with His aid and in His will. Grace leads to more grace. Sin leads to more sin. Notice that it is not the fountain and the brilliant sun which lose their splendour and beauty, for they are placed in the very centre of the soul and cannot be deprived of their lustre. The soul is like a crystal in the sunshine over which a thick black cloth has been thrown, so that however brightly the sun may shine the crystal can never reflect it. 

 Some priests do not like this description of mortal sin as a black cloth. But, St. Teresa tries to show us that mortal sin obscures the light of God within us, keeping us in darkness. The dead soul cannot perceive God without the grace of conversion. 4. O souls, redeemed by the Blood of Jesus Christ, take these things to heart; have mercy on yourselves! If you realize your pitiable condition, how can you refrain from trying to remove the darkness from the crystal of your souls? Remember, if death should take you now, you would never again enjoy the light of this Sun. O Jesus! how sad a sight must be a soul deprived of light! What a terrible state the chambers of this castle are in! How disorderly must be the senses--the inhabitants of the castle--the powers of the soul its magistrates, governors, and stewards--blind and uncontrolled as they are! In short, as the soil in which the tree is now planted is in the devil's domain, how can its fruit be anything but evil? Disorder comes directly from sin, as Garrigou-Lagrange reminded us the other day here. One of the greatest weaknesses of Catholics who undergo the first conversion is that they give up when having to work at cleaning up the senses and the spirit in the Dark Night. Too many Catholics do not want to work with grace, persist in purgation. Teresa continues with this--A man of great spiritual insight once told me he was not so much surprised at such a soul's wicked deeds as astonished that it did not commit even worse sins. May God in His mercy keep us from such great evil, for nothing in this life merits the name of evil in comparison with this, which delivers us over to evil which is eternal.

I meet people frequently who have given up following the road to purgation, as it is “work”, the work of God in the soul. But, the consequences of not pursuing holiness is not some comfortable state of being in moderation, in neutral territory, which does not exist, but finding one's self in hell. 

 5. This is what we must dread and pray God to deliver us from, for we are weakness itself, and unless He guards the city, in vain shall we labour to defend it. [50] The person of whom I spoke [51] said that she had learnt two things from the vision granted her. The first was, a great fear of offending God; seeing how terrible were the consequences, she constantly begged Him to preserve her from falling into sin. Secondly, it was a mirror to teach her humility, for she saw that nothing good in us springs from ourselves but comes from the waters of grace near which the soul remains like a tree planted beside a river, and from that Sun which gives life to our works. She realized this so vividly that on seeing any good deed performed by herself or by other people she at once turned to God as to its fountain head--without whose help she knew well we can do nothing--and broke out into songs of praise to Him. Generally she forgot all about herself and only thought of God when she did any meritorious action. 

 Many Catholics do fear the consequences of sin. But, too few take the next step into a state of being humble. Humility seems to be the illusive virtue for many. Again, the ego gets in the way and makes one believe that good works come from the self, when in reality, all goodness comes from God alone. 6. The time which has been spent in reading or writing on this subject will not have been lost if it has taught us these two truths; for though learned, clever men know them perfectly, women's wits are dull and need help in every way. Perhaps this is why our Lord has suggested these comparisons to me; may He give us grace to profit by them! The clever spurn knowledge from the lowly. This I know personally. Some people have said to me what right do I have to write this blog, or do spiritual direction? I have no right, only what God gives orleads me to share. I have limited resources, as you all know, none in fact, and few gifts, but like the boy with the basket of five loaves and two fish, I give the little I have and God's multiplies it for others. The key is not to get in the way of God's message. The ego must go. Must...... 7. So obscure are these spiritual matters that to explain them an ignorant person like myself must say much that is superfluous, and even alien to the subject, before coming to the point. My readers must be patient with me, as I am with myself while writing what I do not understand; indeed, I often take up the paper like a dunce, not knowing what to say, nor how to begin. Doubtless there is need for me to do my best to explain these spiritual subjects to you, for we often hear how beneficial prayer is for our souls; our Constitutions oblige us to pray so many hours a day, yet tell us nothing of what part we ourselves can take in it and very little of the work God does in the soul by its means. [52] It will be helpful, in setting it before you in various ways, to consider this heavenly edifice within us, so little understood by men, near as they often come to it. Our Lord gave me grace to understand something of such matters when I wrote on them before, yet I think I have more light now, especially on the more difficult questions. Unfortunately I am too ignorant to treat of such subjects without saying much that is already well known

 If St. Teresa, a Doctor of the Church and teacher of millions of Catholics, considered herself a dunce, how can we say we have any gifts at all? Back to the castle with the many mansions....

8. Now let us turn at last to our castle with its many mansions. You must not think of a suite of rooms placed in succession, but fix your eyes on the keep, the court inhabited by the King. [53] Like the kernel of the palmito, [54] from which several rinds must be removed before coming to the eatable part, this principal chamber is surrounded by many others. However large, magnificent, and spacious you imagine this castle to be, you cannot exaggerate it; the capacity of the soul is beyond all our understanding, and the Sun within this palace enlightens every part of it. Do not limit your imagination regarding the soul. 

9. A soul which gives itself to prayer, either much or little, should on no account be kept within narrow bounds. Since God has given it such great dignity, permit it to wander at will through the rooms of the castle, from the lowest to the highest. Let it not force itself to remain for very long in the same mansion, even that of self-knowledge. Mark well, however, that self-knowledge is indispensable, even for those whom God takes to dwell in the same mansion with Himself. Nothing else, however elevated, perfects the soul which must never seek to forget its own nothingness. Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honeycomb, or all will be lost. But, remember, the bee leaves its hive to fly in search of flowers and the soul should sometimes cease thinking of itself to rise in meditation on the grandeur and majesty of its God. It will learn its own baseness better thus than by self-contemplation, and will be freer from the reptiles which enter the first room where self-knowledge is acquired. Although it is a great grace from God to practise self-examination, yet too much is as bad as too little,' as they say; believe me, by God's help, we shall advance more by contemplating the Divinity than by keeping our eyes fixed on ourselves, poor creatures of earth that we are. 

All I can say to this is “amen”. When one concentrates on sin, one cannot get away from self-love. By concentrating on Christ and the Attributes of God (see my posts on these), one grows to love God and hate self. This process keeps one humble. I think gratitude can keep one from falling into too much self-gazing. Years ago, a spiritual director told me that I should let go more in prayer. This frightened me, as I did not know that God was within. Once one realizes this, this letting go brings one closer to Christ and His love, His loveliness. 

 10. I do not know whether I have put this clearly; self-knowledge is of such consequence that I would not have you careless of it, though you may be lifted to heaven in prayer, because while on earth nothing is more needful than humility. Therefore, I repeat, not only a good way, but the best of all ways, is to endeavour to enter first by the room where humility is practised, which is far better than at once rushing on to the others. This is the right road;--if we know how easy and safe it is to walk by it, why ask for wings with which to fly? Let us rather try to learn how to advance quickly. I believe we shall never learn to know ourselves except by endeavouring to know God, for, beholding His greatness we are struck by our own baseness, His purity shows our foulness, and by meditating on His humility we find how very far we are from being humble

 When I pray for humility, God puts me in situations where I make mistakes, publicly, and where I fall back into venial sin, to remind me how imperfect I am. But, He does not want me to stay in these sins and imperfections, showing these to me so that I can beg Him for help to overcome my self and become more like Him. I am so far from being humble that God has to drag me again and again through difficult situations as those I am facing today, in order to remind me that He is in control, not me. And that all I can do is to trust in Him, not myself. If I was concentrating on myself at this point, I would be panicking, but God states “Trust in Me, totally” and thus, I am kept lowly in the eyes of the world, which includes some readers of this blog who do not understand that God treats His beloved as they need to be made holy and not in conformity with middle-class values. Confidence in God means that one has finally given up confidence in one's self. This is true self-abasement. Thankfully, God is faithful if we are and helps us on our way to Him. What I did not learn when I had the leisure to do so, in graduate school, when married, I now have to learn under stress. This is a sign for all who will undergo persecution and tribulation. These terrible things happen not only for punishment, but for our own purification and salvation. What we refuse to learn when we are comfortable and secure, we shall learn when we are uncomfortable and insecure. For then, the road through the mansions becomes more clear. Today, in the early hours of the morning, a strange natural phenomenon occurred here. From the back window, in the rain, I could see clearly the other houses in the neighborhood to the east and south, as usual. But, in the front of the house, to the north and west, a fog hid the houses from my view. How odd that within a few hundred feet, clarity was on one side and obscurity on the other side. Always, the east, the dawn represents Christ and His Resurrection. To look at Christ gives one clarity. To look at the darkness makes one's mind and heart murky. 

 11. Two advantages are gained by this practice. First, it is clear that white looks far whiter when placed near something black, and on the contrary, black never looks so dark as when seen beside something white. Secondly, our understanding and will become more noble and capable of good in every way when we turn from ourselves to God: it is very injurious never to raise our minds above the mire of our own faults. I described how murky and fetid are the streams that spring from the source of a soul in mortal sin. [55] Thus (although the case is not really the same, God forbid! this is only a comparison), while we are continually absorbed in contemplating the weakness of our earthly nature, the springs of our actions will never flow free from the mire of timid, weak, and cowardly thoughts, such as: I wonder whether people are noticing me or not! If I follow this course, will harm come to me? Dare I begin this work? Would it not be presumptuous? Is it right for any one as faulty as myself to speak on sublime spiritual subjects? [56] Will not people think too well of me, if I make myself singular? Extremes are bad, even in virtue; sinful as I am I shall only fall the lower. Perhaps I shall fail and be a source of scandal to good people; such a person as I am has no need of peculiarities.' 

I think of dropping the blog as I do not want to be “singular”, but God will tell me the day and time. All those questions of Teresa which she has going through her mind go through mine as well-the devil desires to bind us up in such negativity, instead of concentrating on the beauty of Truth, Who is A Person. 

12. Alas, my daughters, what loss the devil must have caused to many a soul by such thoughts as these! It thinks such ideas and many others of the same sort I could mention arise from humility. This comes from not understanding our own nature; self-knowledge becomes so warped that, unless we take our thoughts off ourselves, I am not surprised that these and many worse fears should threaten us. Therefore I maintain, my daughters, that we should fix our eyes on Christ our only good, and on His saints; there we shall learn true humility, and our minds will be ennobled, so that self-knowledge will not make us base and cowardly. Although only the first, this mansion contains great riches and such treasures that if the soul only manages to elude the reptiles dwelling here, it cannot fail to advance farther. Terrible are the wiles and stratagems the devil uses to hinder people from realizing their weakness and detecting his snares

 The opposite problem can occur, however, which is when a person forgets his sinful past and weaknesses and acts as if he is purified already, running about wanting to do good works out of need rather than acting out of ego, rather than humble call. In fact, I am convinced that this problem is more common than scrupulosity or over-awareness of one's sinfulness. More people forget their real position before God and enter into “ministries”, thinking that actions make them holy, which is not the case. 

 13. From personal experience I could give you much information as to what happens in these first mansions. I will only say that you must not imagine there are only a few, but a number of rooms, for souls enter them by many different ways, and always with a good intention. The devil is so angry at this that he keeps legions of evil spirits hidden in each room to stop the progress of Christians, whom, being ignorant of this, he entraps in a thousand ways. He cannot so easily deceive souls which dwell nearer to the King as he can beginners still absorbed in the world, immersed in its pleasures, and eager for its honours and distinctions. As the vassals of their souls, the senses and powers bestowed on them by God, are weak, such people are easily vanquished, although desirous not to offend God.

As I wrote yesterday, the sacraments strengthen us and now is the time to pursue sacramental grace.

To be continued....